DISD OKs Merit Pay, but a Debate on Contracts Hints at a Long Road for Reform

Categories: Schutze

Thumbnail image for morath.jpg
Mike Morath, and the unpardonable sin of being right.
Last night the Dallas school board passed into law a merit pay system for teachers in the biggest victory yet for school reformers and for Superintendent Mike Miles. We probably are about to find ourselves under the national microscope as media and academics from everywhere come here to hover.

They will want to see if our new system works. Merit pay systems elsewhere have stumbled. I'm writing a column about all that for the paper next week. But today before it gets lost in the rush, I wanted to pass on to you another little chapter from last night's meeting.

Before the board got to the merit pay issue, it received verified petitions calling for a "home rule" charter in Dallas, a totally separate issue from merit pay and Miles' reform program within the district. Home rule is an external reform program that might alter the basic system of school government, if approved eventually by voters.

Naturally in conjunction with the long-awaited acceptance of the petitions there were tons of public speakers expressing opinions for and against home rule. Smart folks spoke on both sides. Lawyer Jeronimo Valdez, a product of Dallas public schools, made an impassioned and deeply personal appeal for the kind of quantum change he thinks only home rule can deliver.

Former state Representative Harryette Ehrhardt , recent winner of the Dallas League of Women Voters Susan B. Anthony Award for equal rights, gave a rousing funny speech against home rule in which she excavated some of the home rule law's dubious origins when she was in the Legislature (1995-2002). Ehrhardt can still rock the house.

That's not what I'm talking about.

Later in the meeting, after home rule but before the merit pay deal, school board member Mike Morath put forward a "modest proposal" (in the Swiftian sense) to change the way the school board reviews contracts. The rule now and in the past has been that the board must vote on any contract over $50,000. He wanted to raise it to $1.6 million.

This is in an organization that has an annual operating budget of $1.2 billion (not including construction). Think of it like this. You work for a $1.2 billion a year company. Your boss in St. Petersburg has told you to install two small men's and women's bathrooms on the 10th floor for the data processing people being relocated from Davenport. The bill is going to be $60,000. Better get on that plane to New York. You'll have to take this one to the board of directors.

No, that's not how $1.2 billion operations work. In fact it's crazy. It wastes countless hours of school board time in the aggregate, makes service on the board feel like a form of perpetual waterboarding and invites more corruption than it could ever eliminate.

Supposedly the $50,000 limit was to allow the board to protect the district from crooked employees who might steal the toilets otherwise. But the evidence of my own eyes has always been that it works exactly the other way: everybody with a $51,000 contract gets on the horn to some soft-target board member, and now you've got the board member pulling the item from the consent agenda and asking all kinds of challenging questions, hectoring the staff in the public board meeting, on and on until finally the light bulb goes off: Just steer this turd to the board member's buddy and get on with life itself.

Morath's idea was one small expression of a much bigger basic concept, the idea behind home rule, that something has to be done, some kind of big change that will get the school board out of the contracting business and into the education business. Something has to deliver a message that tells the board to forget about the $51,000 contracts. Educate the children. Hire a staff. Look at the big reports at the end of the year. Set a metric. If the money's off more than 3 points, fire their asses. Otherwise think and talk only about education.

So when Morath makes his proposal, this huge push-back ensues. The black board members accuse him of some kind of attack on their civil rights. I think that's in that constitutional amendment I missed in school that says Congress "shall pass no law that inhibits the right of certain people to help certain other people get certain contracts."

Morath's idea was defended by board member Miguel Solis. He said, "I believe the current policy we have over-manages. We have hired brilliant people to do this work for us, and I trust them and will continue to trust them."

But the board member who delivered the death knell was white North Dallas member Elizabeth Jones. She said, "I will not be supporting this. The role of the board is to do the checks and balancing. We are an independent body that has the ultimate authority to do the oversight of this district's finances. No amount of validation of any internal audit can compensate for that or can substitute for that."

Yeah. You could see the nods of agreement. This is our power, man. This is our stuff. That education talk is all pie in the sky mumbo-jumbo. Nobody ever takes you to Sevy's for lunch to talk about reading theory. They take you to lunch to talk about copying machines.

Anyway, they punted the whole thing. Couldn't decide. Gonna take it up again next month. Pathetic!

Morath told me recently he believes the real argument for home rule has nothing to do with the personalities of his fellow board members, in spite of their injured feelings about it. He said the real argument for home rule is that the present structure, no matter who occupies the chairs, is politically incapable of engaging major change. And always will be.

The opponents of home rule launched all kinds of good zingers last night, criticizing the way it was rolled out and talking about how it has a bunch of rich people behind it. I love that stuff. I love talking bad about the rich. It pushes all my ancient hippie buttons.

But by bringing up the contact review limit, Morath proved he's right. He's just right, man. Love it or hate it, the man is right. This system will not and cannot get its nose up out of the minutiae long enough to notice that the flowers are dying. I don't know what the answer is. It's not this system.

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43 comments
MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

A pay system change is one of the last tools you should use to alter a workplace's culture because it is so powerful and so easily misdirected.  You should alter the recruitment, performance measurement, training and benefits first or change gets ugly very quickly.  I understand this plan is the opening salvo to the contract negotiations.  Hopefully, we'll have more resolution on the other pieces before diving into the big enchilada - Pay.

savdisd
savdisd

Bottom line, there's never been a pay scheme that includes all Teachers that the district or the state has proposed, there was not reneged on, ever. The schemes always require some sort of mythical time to achieve mythical goals and completing the goals are achieved in more than just a handful qualified, the district or state will always reneged on the promise. This whole thing reeks of the now debunked Career Ladder.

The critical flaw in all these plans is that the criteria cannot be fairly evaluated or administered without prejudice or financial greed. There's never attempt to qualify employees based on their past performance it's always some new and future great scheme. Usually 10 years or longer it’s all just a bunch of bunk and glorified lip service.

Grandpa said it's just a carrot on a greased pole which never can be reached

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

The author is right about one thing - the problem is not with "the system".  The problem is with the people who fill the seats.  So changing the system to one of Home Rule isn't really going to accomplish anything. After a few years, If it's instituted, Home Rule will be just as effective/ineffective as the ISD system - except with fewer state resources to shore it up and plug the holes.

The biggest challenge will be in dealing with immigrants.  Without state oversight, anti-immigrant zealots will likely have more success in keeping immigrant children out of the schools and on the streets.  Average grades and graduation rates will go up, right along with crime rates - because kids who can't get into school are more prone to take up the use of dangerous drugs, to commit crimes and to join criminal gangs.

Similar problems will crop up with the poor, the religious and the mentally ill.  Without state oversight, anti-education right-wingers will have an easier time keeping them out of school, too.  As they do so, they'll call it a "win" because of the higher reported rates of graduation and high grades.



aprilbarney
aprilbarney

Apology accepted we were typing at the same time, I feel very slighted as a teacher who truly busts her butt for her students by a district who seems to care for neither....

aprilbarney
aprilbarney

So I guess I actually do understand it Jim :) and I suppose I am wrong to think that my pay should be based on my performance and not that of my "fellow teachers" and maybe your not aware that as it stands I will not qualify for an increase or meet the qualifcations for an increase as a CTE teacher by proxy. According to the DISD pie chart we were shown 20% or so will reach the highest pay grade these are master teachers with whom have masters degrees and have met the qualifications to request the district level evaluation? Please tell me what part I missed? This was the last presentation we were given on the subject earlier this month.

aprilbarney
aprilbarney

I have sat through enough faculty meetings this year, and watched enough district produced power points to feel I am correct. It is core teacher centered and should not have been voted on until all teachers knew for certain they would be compensated for their performance. When we asked questions of district level personal about CTE instructors we were met with "we cannot answer that at this time" or "that is still in the planning phase" "we will be forming a committee"...this is what my ability to provide for my family is going to be based on not my performace as a teacher because there is no state level exam for Practicum in Culinary Arts II where my kids run a cafe successfully that sees 85 covers on a good day in 2 hours. My pay will be based on the overall performace of my school not my instruction or my students success, but that will be why I stay.

aprilbarney
aprilbarney

I run a very successful culinary magnet program in the district. This evaluation system does not consider Career and Technology Ed. programs, Special Ed., or Elective teachers of any kind. It does not take into account industry standards and certifications for students as a level of achievement measurement nor does it clearly define how these highly qualified teachers are supposed to move up on the evaluation scale when to their measure obtaining a Certified Executive Chef Cert. from the American Culinary Federation does not equal a Masters Degree in Culinary Arts which does not exists. So I hope next time Mr. Morath enjoys a meal at FT33, Mot Hai Ba, or Grabs a Hypnotic Donut he stops by the kitchen and says hi to our program graduates, and knows their teacher will be taking a pay cut over the next few years that could have her qualifying for food stamps.

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

The board members aren't there to educate, they're there to administer the business side of things.  So it's totally appropriate that they should want to exercise oversight on contracts.


Flabbergasted
Flabbergasted

OMG, Jim.

How did such an iconoclast like you, a speaker of reason, get so bought off on DISD?

Nefarious contracts have been siphoning off money in DISD for DECADES. You know it, I know it.... well, I know it, you FORGOT?

To me, if the average teacher salary is $50k, ANYTHING MORE than that needs to be approved. Have you forgotten Shirley Isom Newsome's bathroom bullshit which cost taxpayers THOUSANDS of dollars? Or how someone's lakehouse is made out of the EXACT same brick as Townview?

Give me ten minutes, and I can show you more examples of fraud, cronyism and waste, all because it went under the radar.

You USED to be a great investigative journalist. Now, you act and write like a paid for hack.

I guess the idea of a MILLION DOLLARS is just chicken feed for you, but how much waste could be attached to that? What if they let through 18 such contracts, at say, $750k each? How many books would that have bought, or payments towards insurance premiums, or copier paper or whatever?

Get out your Fonzi jacket, sir, for you have jumped the shark, truly.

ImprovingDISD
ImprovingDISD

Anything we can do to allow the board more time to focus on the things that truly matter and focus on their primary responsibility (ensuring growing academic achievement within a sustainable model) is what we should do.


DISD's large internal audit staff now completely reports to the board vs. the superintendent.  They can now play more of the role the board historically played in oversight, and they will be better at it because it is their full time job and they have more expertise. That is a substantial change enacted recently, providing more leverage to the board to focus on more important items such as how we maximize PreK enrollment, strengthen early literacy efforts, address harmful social promotion, increase internal school choice,  increase resources towards college access.  The list goes on and on.


The current length of our board meetings and briefings completely dwarf the amount of time spent by other larger districts around the state, creating a real barrier for talented people who would want to serve on the DISD board but cannot spend the current amount of time required (some times 6 to 7 hours per meeting).    Every time our governance actions and structure limit the size of trustee applicants, kids ultimately suffer.


We cancelled the school board elections completely in 2011 due to lack of applicants.   Allowing the board to focus on the items that will drive academic success (vs. reviewing minor contracts which are consistent with the already approved budget and followed procurement procedures as ensured by internal audit) will benefit students.


Equally important, it will allow the superintendent to manage appropriately and timely vs. having to delay the award of almost every contract for the board to review first (even though its in line with the budget which they already approved).  The administration can always report to the board after the fact contracts awarded above a certain level to provide more transparency, but we should let the administration manage in a timely manner while the board focuses on policy.


Its clear that a growing majority of the school board understand the difference between governance and management and want to make changes that reflect that important understanding.  Last night's affirmative vote on clarifying that the administration and not the board approve programmatic and grade configuration changes at the campus level after ensuring meaningful community input was another example of that understanding.  


That growing awareness will only benefit kids.  The trustees should be applauded for moving in that direction.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

I'm a gradualist on this. 1 thing at a time. Let Miles get the new plan cranked up. Changing horses here an is an invitation to another horse designed by committee.

MichaelMacNaughton
MichaelMacNaughton

Jim,

When I started looking at the budget documents 6 years ago (only available by FOIA request) the trustees had asked for a cover sheet each month showing checks written for more than $250K as a quick reference and which excluded large checks for regularly purchased items like milk for the cafeterias.  As I dug into the check register I found a large number of checks (12 or 15, I'll have to look it up) written to a vendor in Canada for between 240K and 249K each to stay under the voluntary disclosure limit. The trustees didn't notice because the monthly check register was given to the trustees as a giant stack of paper and nobody reviewed it. The issue here is trust...six years ago the district audit was "no audit" because there wasn't an audit trail that could be followed and the district had to fire 700 teachers because they were $100M in the hole and couldn't make payroll.  The trustees have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers.  The trustees are not in the contracting business - the administration IS.

Payroll is 81.82% of total 2013-14 budget of 1,202,789,000  (of which only $678,188,000 or 56.39% goes towards Instruction).

Contract review is a valid check against the administrations ability to spend the enormous remaining balance. 

And please don't say that $50K is only a drop in the bucket...that is one additional teacher that could be hired.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

I still think we should start paying students, based on performance, just like the real world.

Teachers can only do so much with an unmotivated student.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

Morath is a heretic.

The comedy starts when the commission is appointed.

probably in closed session.

benwellsstreet
benwellsstreet

Wow, with all those punctuation and spelling errors in you're post, I'm pretty sure you don't deserve a raise.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@aprilbarney OK. Sounds like you know what you're talking about. Apologies.

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@aprilbarney 

Not to endorse grammar-policing, but saying things like "which does not exists" and using random capitalization as you do probably isn't the best way to earn the big bucks in education.

That said, you're not alone in your frustrations with the opportunities that our world offers to highly-trained food service workers.  A lot of other people besides you have expressed similar anger - complaining about the lack of opportunity that such unessential careers provide.

The lesson for you here is that if you want to make more money as a teacher, you're going to have to teach something more worth learning - like math, science or language.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@aprilbarney You really haven't taken five minutes to understand TEI, have you? All of that advancement by academic degrees, masters degree of chef's degree, whatever, is mostly out the window. Teachers can tell who's a good teacher, and the classroom rating, the most important part, will be done largely by your fellow teachers. Figure it out.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@Flabbergasted

I understand where you are coming from. The reality is this. If the administration is nefarious, then the least efficient way to do anything about it is by having the board of directors go over every plumbing contract at every meeting. In fact that's the very the trick I have seen city managers pull on city council members for decades, not necessarily because the managers are nefarious but more often simply because they don't want the council getting seriously involved in anything really important. So what they do is weight them down with minutiae, structure things so that it's the council person who must get to work if a constituent needs a stop sign on his corner and, yes, so that the council person can feel very big and instrumental if somebody who contributed to his campaign needs a two-bit contract to supply stop signs to the city. What the board of a billion-plus entity needs to be doing instead is convening to hear 1,000 foot overviews from independent trustworthy investigator/analysts, and then,  if they think the administration  is nefarious, fire them. This isn't Mayberry. These are huge entities, often incomprehensibly complex even to the executives supposedly running them. Having the board of directors down in the weeds looking for a bread-crumb trail of $50,000 contracts is a joke. 

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@ozonelarryb

By the time it gets to a vote, the Public should be able to get a feel for how well the internal reforms are working.  

We need an external hammer if it turns into business as usual.

We need some urgency put on reform this time.

mindingthestore
mindingthestore

HHHmmmmm. It's "your" post. Pot calling kettle black.

aprilbarney
aprilbarney

Lol thanks for the tip, my typos are most likely frustration driven. I have a BA in Forensic Anthropology with an understudy in Entomology from Baylor, I happen to to attened culinary school 1st... I teach culinary because I choose to help students who may not be university bound like myself at first find another path to post secondary education, that may like myself lead them to other achievement. I will make sure that next time I see Tim Byers or Matt McAllister or Stephen Pyles I remind them how we have unessential careers, and just for kicks I only have data on my 4 years with the program but we are at 100% gradution rate 90% with students attending post sendondary institutions after gradution, and the other 10% going directly into industry I don't call that unessential. If everyone went to Havard who would you get to fix your car, plumbing, or cook those fancy meals observer reads love to eat so much lol.

Flabbergasted
Flabbergasted

@bvckvs @aprilbarney  False choice. Career training, which culinary arts classes are, can be the life ring which keeps a kid in school. It is what Skyline, the original magnet school in the country, was set up to be: both college prep and vocational ed. Over time, they cut shop, cooking, secretarial and other programs, because of the false idea that ALL kids want or need to go to college. No, they do not.

TO keep up with the mythology that ONLY science or math classes are needed is part of the problem with our schools. We need a carpentry class as much as physics, and we need a child care class even more than Spanish III.

Flabbergasted
Flabbergasted

@JimSX @aprilbarney  YOU figure it out. No, TEACHERS will NOT be evaluating teachers!!!

Are you high?

These multiple spot observations are a joke. We have seasoned high school teachers being evaluated by too-fast promoted principals (thanks, Miles), "fellows"  and Executive Directors who could not find their rear end without a map and a flashlight. One ED thought a high school teacher's class deserved a 3, the highest rating, because he had the kids divided in groups, like you do in elementary school---- as was the E D from.

Another teacher had the kids involved in a lively discussion on the same subject, at the same time, but they got only a 2, because they were not "actively engaged."

No, sorry, they were. They were discussing a specific subject, asking questions and making comments. But because they weren't drawing on a poster with markers, they were not as "engaged."

THAT is what is going on with the TEI.

One physics teacher was told to do a DOL --Demonstration of Learning-- even though they were reviewing for a test. The teacher remarked that the LEARNING would be measured the next day during the test. No, they said, you MUST do one every day. He told them, "In physics, ONE problem is 15 minutes of class time."

The E D did not care. Why? Because they only had taught below 5th grade, and had no clue.

So, go ahead, keep defending a program that even Microsoft threw out. (stacked ranking)

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@JimSX @bvckvs 

So, you think they're there to educate - even though there's not one single one among them who has a classroom or students, eh?  That's funny.

aprilbarney
aprilbarney

@jimSX I do not disagree that the board should not be micro managing to a degree, but these past 2 years have been harsh so I am very grateful when we do have trustees who are willing to ask questions and examine things before they let them pass. I just wish that had happened in this scenario. Also let's not forget about a little thing called House Bill 5, which has basically made programs like mine mandatory. So now what we have is my employer telling me job is required, and that I may not perform poorly but my compensation will not be based on my performance but another employee's. I will never because of the nature of my specific position meet the criteria to apply for additional compensation even though I am under the same contract and job description of those who's performance my compensation is based on. So I am the only one who thinks this is and is going to be a potentially serious issue?

http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index2.aspx?id=25769806149

House Bill 5 Info just in case, it's a game changer for people who plan on "Unessential Careers"

Flabbergasted
Flabbergasted

@JimSX @Flabbergasted  Again, Jim, your spidey-sense is gone. The devil is in the details. The fraud, the cronyism in DISD is done JUST the way I described, and the bad ones stay because the DR chamber and the DCC push to hire sup's who hire these bastards who work these deals/

Damn, son, they caught the Superintendent just last year on the Concilio contract!  More than ONCE or even TWICE, the phrase, "I am NOT going to jail for them," was heard---all in relation to contracts. Hell, when they "cabinet" first hit town, they felt they were so above the rest of us, they did not even bother to clock  in like we all have to... and so, for days, where were they? working? Playing? Who knew?

They keep playing, "These are not the droids you are looking for," with the public, and you have bought all.

I wish they WOULD bury them with plumbing contracts, because then, they would see what we DO NOT spend on infra-structure, or how idiots buy hand dryers that are as loud, and I do not exaggerate for we measured it, an airplane taking off.

And we have to keep out doors open, now, because of Miles.

Yes, that makes us so much better at our jobs.

How about if they looked at the toilet paper contract? What if they checked to see if our pay-on-time record has improved from the early 2000 timeframe, when they suspended delivery of paper, and other supplies, to campuses?

See, if you watched the meeting on Thursday, you will notice that the majority speaking in FAVOR of TEI were youngin's. ALL under 5 years of teaching experience. That is intentional. When the last of us old farts are gone, they can then get away with more crap, because there will be no more collective memory of shit happening before.

That is what IRRITATES them, the old teachers!! We KNOW what they are up to, because we have seen it before. And we hoped you would be there to help, but no, you believe in his false credo of reform. You buy into the "we have bigger tings" to look at idea.

It is a shame, and when you see how many more great teachers walk out the door this summer, just tell yourself again, how much better the newbies are.


TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@bbetzen

Money is a very poor motivator

There's all sorts of empirical data that shows it is, as well as simple logic.

and is highly associated with dishonesty

So are school tests, as well as other human things, like getting laid.

...when floating outside normal monthly pay channels

What does that even mean? Most people are paid weekly or bi-weekly, but you could always pay the kids on a monthly basis to keep them "honest" (??)

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@becoolerifyoudid

I mean starting with the first grade, even include athletics - whatever pays in the real world. Kids can't be expected to recognize value in the abstract, "These 12 years in the pen are of great benefit yada yada".

If we're preparing them for the working world, we're leaving out one of the more important elements - the cash.

aprilbarney
aprilbarney

Clearly you have not driven through Oak Cliff into Bishop Arts or a little place called Trinity Groves. Last time I checked the majority of what the Observer promotes is service industry related. There is no lack of jobs but qualified hands with an strong work ethic programs like mine produce this type of employee. A recent article was published on this exact subject relating to the food service industry in Dallas specifically.

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@aprilbarney 

The problem with that argument is that we already have too many kids who are graduating with advanced training in unessential fields - like cooking, cleaning and voice - who can't find jobs that pay well.  The reason they can't find jobs is that those skills are not essential in the real-world workforce.

Meanwhile, the ones who learn something worthwhile- like math, science, engineering, law and medicine- have no problem finding jobs that pay well.. because those skills are essential in today's workforce.

Flabbergasted
Flabbergasted

@bvckvs @Flabbergasted @aprilbarney  So, can we cheat to get better results? Can we bribe the counselors to put the best kids in our classroom? Can we shut down all activities but test prep?

LISTEN to what we are telling you.

aprilbarney
aprilbarney

So high school career prep differs from apprenticeships of the past only in title for those who already have a desire persure those paths. It was a job I was higher'd to do, my job performance exceeds expectations and my pay should reflect my performance not that of a fellow employee. It is unreasonable.

Flabbergasted
Flabbergasted

@bvckvs  And they charge way too much.

You don't get it. A kid used to be able to graduate from high school with a skill or a prep for college. Now, they know how to bubble sheets.

When you have these programs, the kids become employable, not tax burdens, but tax PAYERS.

So, short sighted thinking is what allowed this all to happen.

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@Flabbergasted @bvckvs @aprilbarney 

There are already a class of schools that do that - they're called "trade schools".


aprilbarney
aprilbarney

Culinary at Skyline still exists and lunch is on me next school year lol

Anon
Anon

The most important function of the board is to pass the budget. Next, the board makes public policy decisions relating to district issues. The board should not be micro-managing district staff, ever.

Here's why: There are real problems that can arise from allowing staff to administratively approve contracts. When a powerful board member who intimidates staff is elected, suddenly $49,895.00 contracts are being let to vendors who contributed to the newly elected board member's campaign fund. This observation is not about DISD, but another local publicly elected body. It happens. One question is, how much of that $49,895.00 contract makes its way back to the elected official?

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